It’s finally here.
After eight long months, Bengals football is back and seemingly revived following an offseason of turnover and rebirth across the roster. Now it’s time to see the results on the field and find out what this team is capable of. Here are 16 meaningful numbers for every Bengals game this season.
WEEK 1: @ Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck is making his first start for the Colts in 20 months. That’s something this Bengals team, especially the front seven, should be able to take advantage of. Cincinnati fields one of the deepest defensive line groups in the NFL. Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo could be out, which would make things even worse for Luck.
WEEK 2: Baltimore Ravens
When the Bengals made their final cuts, the average age of the roster was 25.2 years old. That made them one of the three youngest teams in the league. There isn’t a lot of experience on either side of the ball going into a home opener against a division rival. A lot of new faces have to step up for the Bengals to succeed this season and it starts by outplaying Baltimore in front of the home crowd.
WEEK 3: @ Carolina Panthers
It was a wild affair four years ago in Charlotte, Cam Newton led the Panthers offense to 37-37 tie with 391 total yards including 107 on the ground. If that happens again don’t expect the Bengals to bring home a victory in the Battle of Queen Cities. Cincinnati gave up 109 yards across four running quarterback matchups last season.
WEEK 4: @ Atlanta Falcons
Number 46.4 percent
The Bengals offense dominated headlines in a bad way this offseason but the defense was quietly solid last season especially in the red zone where they ranked 4th in touchdown scoring percentage. The Falcons offense finished 23rd on the flip side of that stat and were 1-5 on red zone tries in their opener against Philadelphia.
WEEK 5: Miami Dolphins
While Marvin Lewis is 3-3 all-time against the Miami Dolphins, he has matched up against the same head coach just once. Consistency in Miami has been tough to find over the past 15 years, Joe Philbin was the only coach to face Lewis twice. Ironically, they were two close victories for the Dolphins, barring a disastrous first month for Miami, Adam Gase will get his second crack at Lewis in week five.
WEEK 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
15 years in and Marvin Lewis has accrued 8 victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 32 games.
The Bengals haven’t knocked off the black and yellow in Paul Brown Stadium since September 2013 and this could be their best chance yet if Le’veon Bell is serious about his early season holdout.
WEEK 7: @ Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid always has his teams ready play, but when the Kansas City Chiefs perform at Arrowhead Stadium they are a different animal. Arrowhead and the Chiefs hold the record for loudest stadium crowd roar at 142.2 decibels. The Bengals dominated 28-6 in Kansas City six years ago and are looking to push the series winning streak to five games.
WEEK 8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Amidst the James Winston controversy, there is a strong chance Ryan Fitzpatrick will be barking out calls at the line of scrimmage for Tampa Bay. William Jackson III and the Bengals secondary will be ready for Fitsy and his 136 career interceptions which ranks 73rd all time. He could realistically crack the top 60 of that group this season and Bengals will gladly help him get there.
WEEK 10: New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has cemented his status as one of the all-time greats and he’s played like it against the Cincinnati Bengals. Brees has thrown for 1,078 yards in three games against Cincinnati in a Saints uniform. New Orleans is absolutely loaded with offensive weapons this season, a repeat of the 522-yard performance from 2006 is possible.
WEEK 11: @ Baltimore
It was a nightmare start to the year in 2017 and it all came to a head during the week one shutout in Baltimore. That should be burned deep into the minds of every returning player and give them an extra edge against a Baltimore team that could be led by Lamar Jackson at this point in the season.
WEEK 12: Cleveland Browns
The Browns are getting plenty of hype this season and some of it is warranted when you look at their revival at quarterback. 2017 starter Deshone Kizer led the league with 22 interceptions, while his replacement for this season, Tyrod Taylor, threw four. That 18 turnover gap should give the Browns a lot more chances to win this season and they won’t make it easy for a Bengals defense that finished 31st in takeaways last season.
WEEK 13: Denver Broncos
Von Miller is an All-Pro and one of the premier players at his position, he’s played like it against the Bengals. In six matchups he has five sacks and the offseason pairing of him and Bradley Chubb should strike fear into any opposing offensive line. Bobby Hart is a first-year starter for the Bengals at right tackle and if he still has that job in week 13 he will have his hands full.
WEEK 14: @ Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers and the Chargers led the NFL with 4,431 passing yards last year using a dynamic attack featuring every skill position in the offense. Meanwhile, the Bengals finished 8th in passing yards allowed, the matchups between LA skill players and the Bengals secondary will be key all afternoon.
WEEK 15: Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden hasn’t coached against Marvin Lewis and the Bengals since October 15, 2006, or roughly 4,346 days. Oakland just traded away their best player, Khalil Mack, from a defense that ranked 29th in the league last year with him on the field. It could be a long season in Oakland and they start winding it down with a trip to Cincinnati.
WEEK 16: @ Cleveland
The Browns have been a laughing stock for the majority of their time as a franchise and their matchups with the Bengals are no different. Cleveland is 4-12 against Cincinnati this decade and hasn’t taken out Andy Dalton and Co. in Cleveland since September 29, 2013. The odds keep stacking against the Hardland of America.
WEEK 17: @ Pittsburgh
Le’veon Bell is the lifeblood of the Steelers offense, accounting for 85 percent of the teams rushing yards and 13 percent of the teams receiving yards last season. He is holding out to start the season because the man wants to get paid, but he will be playing in this game barring injury. The week 17 matchup has playoff implications written all over it and I highly doubt he misses it, I know I won’t.
The AFC North Power Vacuum
The AB shoe has dropped.
After a drama-filled start to the offseason, Antonio Brown got his wish: A new home and contract in the Bay Area. The Pittsburgh Steelers shipped their disgruntled star to the Oakland Raiders for a pair of third and sixth round picks in this year’s draft.
The Killer-B Era in the Steel City is over.
Le’veon Bell called the organizations bluff last year and sat the entire season after he was offered $14.5 million on another franchise tag. That decision left the Steelers with the fifth most unused cap space in the NFL last season and now the loss of Brown hamstrings them even more. The Steelers must now eat $21 million in dead cap money with Brown in the Silver and Black, ostensibly the largest hit of its kind in league history.
Sweet, sweet music for the rest of the AFC North.
While Pittsburgh holds on to a fading era the other three teams in the division have kickstarted themselves with new coaches, quarterbacks, and in the Cleveland Browns case, both.
Baker Mayfield‘s talents are now fully paired with Freddie Kitchens, the duo led Cleveland to a 5-2 record down the stretch and has injected a breadth of confidence the franchise hasn’t felt since returning to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. The Lamar Jackson Era is in full swing after the Baltimore Ravens shipped Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick. Jackson is a dynamic playmaker but struggled as a passer in year one, despite aerial issues the former Heisman winner notched six wins in seven starts with a 27-24 loss to Kansas City mixed in.
In Cincinnati all of the eggs now lie in the Zac Taylor basket, The entire coaching staff has been overhauled outside of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and after 16 seasons of Marvin Lewis, there is tepid optimism surrounding this young coaching staff.
For the first time since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers don’t seem like the go-to favorite to win the AFC North and stomp on another Marvin Lewis team. Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are bringing fresh eyes and concepts to this roster and ideally Bengals fans will experience the 2018 LA Rams Offense: Midwest Edition when they roll into Paul Brown Stadium this Fall.
On the defensive side things can’t get much worse than last season with new coordinator Lou Anarumo taking the reins of a unit that ranked 32nd in total defense (413.6 yards allowed per game), 32nd against the pass (275.9 per game), 30th in points allowed (28.4 per game) and 29th against the run (137.8 yards per game).
Meanwhile, many of the draft experts have the Bengals selecting do-it-all LSU linebacker Devin White with the 11th pick. A massive value at that spot, White is as durable a player you’ll find at the linebacker position and is graded by Scouts Inc. as the fourth best prospect available in April. He would be a welcome addition to a defense that was the worst in the NFL defending tight ends last season.
A New Dey has arrived not only in Cincinnati but throughout the rest of the AFC North and with the Killer-B’s done in Pittsburgh the Bengals have their chance to fill the power void.
The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII
It’s been 30 years since the Cincinnati Bengals last played in a Super Bowl. A heartbreaking 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the Bengals most recent shot at glory, and while Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams showcases how far Cincinnati is to breaking that drought, there are plenty of things for Bengals fans to focus on inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Keep an Eye on the Incoming Head Coach
Zac Taylor is taking the reins from Marvin Lewis in what will be the first head coaching change since I started watching Bengals games during that magical 2005 season. The 35-year old Rams QB coach joins six other “young, offensive-minded” hires from this years coaching carousel. For Bengals fans, they are hoping he’s a cut above the rest, despite being the last to ink a deal. Bengals faithful should pay close attention any and every time the CBS production crew decides to show him in action on Sunday.
This is the biggest game Taylor has been a part of since entering the NFL coaching ranks with the Dolphins back in 2012 and it will be really interesting to see him handle a moment all Bengals fans hope he can relive sooner rather than later in Cincinnati. No one on the outside of the Rams organization really knows how involved Taylor is with setting up the gameplan, but he has clearly had a very positive effect on Jared Goff since taking over his tutelage in 2017.
How he interacts with Goff in between plays and coaches him through mistakes could go a long way in determining how he will help Andy Dalton (or Ryan Tannehill?) return to his 2015 form. Zac Taylor might not be the most experienced coach getting a chance this year but the results with Goff prove he deserves this opportunity.
Pre-snap and Play-Action
There are still questions as to who will call plays and control the 2019 Bengals offense, but in saying that fans should expect a lot of carryover from this Rams system that has willed their way to Atlanta with pre-snap communication and play-action passing. It’s no secret that Goff and Rams head coach Sean McVay communicate right up to the 15-second cutoff during every play.
McVay can read the defense, then call something to match their formation and he often times uses motion to accomplish that. Former Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was allergic to this kind of communication and the offense ranked 32nd and 26th in his two seasons because of it. Expect Taylor to have his voice in the Red Rifle’s ear plenty on Sundays.
In terms of play-action passing the Rams used these plays as the cornerstone of their offense, calling them 34 percent of the time with devastating effect. LA’s 9.0 yards per play on these calls ranked third in the NFL and they averaged 1.9 yards per play more than regular calls. On the flip side, Cincinnati ranked 13th in the league calling play-action on 24 percent for 1.5 yards per play more than all other calls. It’s not rocket science, play-action works wonders in today’s NFL and Taylor is expected to bring that mindset with him to the Queen City.
Todd Gurley: The Receiver
Player A: 55 targets, 43 receptions, 296 yards, 6.9 yards per catch, 1 TD
Player B: 81 targets, 59 receptions, 580 yards, 9.8 yards per catch, 4 TD
Yes, I know Joe Mixon had a stellar year running the ball (1,168 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) but he was totally mismanaged in the passing game and his Player A numbers reflect that. Player B, well I’d say he was used correctly and will continue to be used that way on Sunday. Despite his two costly drops in the NFC Championship Game, Todd Gurley is still one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.
A big reason why he’s so productive is the way LA puts him in an ideal position to make big plays, whether it’s a wheel route down the sideline or a throwback screen off of…. play action, this coaching staff does all they can to help him gash defenses. So far in Mixon’s career, I’ve barely seen any of that, it’s similar to putting a governor on a 66′ Cobra. Keep an eye on how the Rams use Gurley’s receiving skills to their advantage and imagine Mixon on the other end of those throws.
This One’s For Whit
Every Bengals fan should be rooting for the new head coach to bring a Super Bowl winning pedigree with him to his new digs in Cincinnati, but if that wasn’t enough, we should all be rooting for Andrew Whitworth.
Likely on his way to back-to-back All-Pro selections Whitworth is one of the best players to ever play the tackle position and was a consummate professional during his 11-year stint in a Bengals uniform. He notched his first playoff win 13 years into his career and why not knock down all of the playoff milestones in one run. I know who I’m rooting for come Super Bowl Sunday.
Enjoy the holiday.
An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis
Dear Mr. Lewis,
I have been contemplating sending you this letter for quite some time, and I hope it finds you well. You don’t know me, but I am a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. The second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers remains as the first time I can remember experiencing heartbreak. I have, quite literally, hated Joe Montana for what he did to my then 12 year old self, for 30 years now. That said, my fandom has endured. Admittedly, as I was in college in the late 90’s, I was not as honed in on every move my Bengals made. So many losses, so little time. Sure, I loved Jeff Blake, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes, but I had finals to take and parties from which to recover. But then something happened. Something unexpected. Mike Brown hired you as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Marvin Lewis – the legendary architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league – was coming to be our coach! The excitement was palpable, and you were brimming with confidence. It was a swagger not seen around here since the days of Sam Wyche.
As the years passed, you began to place your stamp on the team and the city. The Marvin Lewis community fund is an outstanding work of art, and a tribute to your dedication to the people of Cincinnati. Kudos. On the field, the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh, made being a Bengals’ fan fun again. They became must see TV, if not in person appointment viewing. Cleveland was a guaranteed two wins. Baltimore was almost two. Pittsburgh was likely a couple of losses, but the wins were sweet, and the losses were respectable. I’d look forward to your post-game interviews, and your Monday press conferences. There was useful information to be gleaned from them. Things that the average fan would miss as they had long turned off the broadcast and moved on with their lives. Not me. I am a loyal fan, remember? I don’t break down tape or have some hot draft take, but I love my Bengals, and I follow them closely – you included.
I need to take a moment to give you some props on the transition from the Palmer-era to the Dalton-era. That entire thing was a mess, what with Carson forcing his way out, you hiring an unproven offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and then drafting/starting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton. And all during an NFL lockout. I still remember predictions of the team going 0-16 that year. Somehow, some way, you guided this team, not only to a winning record, but to the playoffs. I am not sure if I have ever been more impressed by an NFL coach. You completely rebooted the franchise, and had a whole new cast of characters for us to get to know. Dalton, AJ Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Clint Boling, and Andrew Whitworth. Young talent, ready to take on the AFC North. Two wins versus Cleveland – check. Almost two wins versus Baltimore – check. Still two losses to Pittsburgh – yeah, most of the time, but division titles weren’t out of reach. The playoffs became an annual event. This is where I need to touch on the obvious…
I do not understand your philosophy when it comes to playoff games, and for that matter, night games, games against Pittsburgh, Monday Night Football games, and any other game not at 1 pm eastern. You seem to have think and preach that these games are just the same as any other. No need for extra emphasis. No need for extra hype. No need to bring an extra chin strap because it’s just another game. After watching 16 years of this approach from you, I humbly disagree. Your teams are consistently outplayed, out-coached, and seemingly unprepared for the spotlight of these match-ups. At some point, would it not make sense to try a different approach? Maybe call it Pittsburgh week? Maybe say this Sunday night game is going to be huge for us? Maybe say that your team is chomping at the bit to play on Monday Night Football? It’s got to be better than just another game – just another loss.
I know you love this city and this franchise. I genuinely believe you want to win – for Mike Brown, and for the fans. That said, I think that it is time to move on with your life’s work. You gave it your all. You got more out of Mr. Brown than anyone ever thought possible. You raised this franchise to a level of respectability that no one could have predicted. You have done good work. It’s just not enough. There is no shame in that. And if I am being honest, you just do not seem to enjoy this anymore. Your press conferences, that I used to look forward to hearing, are all the same. Short, full of disdain for the people asking questions, and random giggles that make no sense. The fire and energy after 16 years of being an NFL head coach have faded. Why not let someone else give it a shot? We both know Mike Brown isn’t going to fire you, so why not walk away? Do what’s best for the franchise, and make them look for a coach. Last time, it brought us you!
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.
P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you. Thanks